The Fault in Our Screens, Colltalers
With all due respect to victims of violent crimes, and their families and friends, there is such a thing as making even the aftermath of a tragedy worse. For instance, the gun massacre that killed 16 people in San Bernardino last Wednesday.
There’ve been already plenty of mass shootings in the U.S. this year. But what was shamefully different this time around was a televised media invasion of the suspects’ home, that was almost as despicable as the murders themselves.
For what appears to be an undue exaggeration – equating the violation of someone’s privacy to human carnage – may not be so when considering the callous act’s implications, and how poorly it bodes to the state of what’s deemed news nowadays.
First, there are the major media conglomerates, NBC, CNN, and others, which allowed their reporters to step all over any code of professional conduct to show, live, what was essentially a pointless ‘behind the scenes’ look at the accused murderers’ home. That they all knew
that at least two other people lived in the house only attests their staggering lack of common decency.
They furthered their decent into the realm of unrestrained trivialization of a bloodbath by rebroadcasting parts of the invasion throughout the afternoon of Dec. 2, as if airing again, with pride, some Pulitzer Award-winning news segment.
Lastly, in what may be the most serious implication among a sorrowful collection of reprehensible acts, the media seemed to have endorsed one of the tenets of any authoritarian regime: that ‘criminals,’ and/or those perceived as such, have no rights.
Now, we may all argue whether the rule of law merits providing a shield to those who break it, and those close to them, until the bullets stop flying and guns are finally properly regulated in this country. But the matter has already been long settled by this nation’s Founders circa 1776. And their decision is that, yes, it does, and anyone who chooses to ignore it is also breaking the law.
When we declare that the assumption of culpability is enough to move to an unrestricted punishment phase, we’re opening the gates for the same to happen even to those whose possible misdeeds are not yet judged by a court. Which means, all of us.
For one of the greatest strengths in the arsenal of any democratic society is its ability to use well established weights and measures to gauge a criminal act, and promptly isolate and protect all elements, and people, non related to the act itself.
Which means that one of the San Bernardino killers’s mother should’ve never had her personal data displayed in front of the cameras. And that their baby shouldn’t have to become a sideshow for wild speculation about his or her parents. That these two are alive and will have to somehow pick up their lives after all that atrocity should be enough of a punishment.
As is, the media companies’ behavior became their own indictment, and why there’s a current discussion seeking to reevaluate the concept of what’s news. For there’s hardly ever a situation when the media itself is part the news, unless, of course, they’re the perpetrators. By irresponsibly inserting themselves in the middle of a story, they showed lack of judgement and ethics.
Naturally, we’re purposely leaving out the overall context of what happened last week, the brutality of the act itself, the killers’ probably insane motivation, and what every other piece of news about it has invoked: that the death of 14 people plus the two shooters adds up to an increasing, and lethal, trend of deranged people executing people to prove an ideological point.
But whether one uses the system compiled by The Guardian, related to efforts to curb gun violence, which shows that we’re almost at a rate of one mass (four people or more) murders per day, in 2015, or the Mother Jones’ criteria, which excludes robberies, gang violence or domestic abuse, and counts four such incidents this year, either way is utterly unacceptable.
All misguided mentions of the 2nd. Amendment, the National Rifle Association’s lobby in Congress, race, or the political or religious affiliation of the murderers notwithstanding, it’s important not to leave the media off-the-hook just yet. For the incident offers an opportunity to discuss their role as tools to understanding reality, which evidently they’re badly failing.
It may be a chance to discuss manipulation of the information to serve this or that purpose, an issue that resonates deeply within American society. Are we being told the whole story about this apparent rush to go to yet another war, this time in Syria? Do we know how many innocent civilians are being killed in the name of making a macho point against Daesh?
Even without having to pick a long list of important issues that are consistently ignored by news organizations in the U.S., for instance, it’s fair to wonder why there’s so much prime broadcast real estate spent on celebrities and irrelevant ‘human stories,’ while real American lives are being lost in so many places in the world. Or even why we’re all over in the first place.
When reporters took cameras inside a post-crime scene location, to expose the intimate but irrelevant quarters of a group of people involved in a terrible slaughter a few hours before, they’ve crossed the line from being journalists to become vultures. Like the paparazzi pursuing the famous for a buck, they’ve reduced an entire profession to a hunt and display game.
As a result, we’re once again fed a distraction, a diversion big enough to fill hours of news programs and talk shows, only to ultimately prevent us, then and now, from having an insightful understanding about what really happened that day.
It’s possible to enlarge the perspective a bit, to include the role police and the building’s landlord had. Having searched and wrecked the place, it’s inexcusable that investigators simply walked away, without sealing it.
That’s not just lack of ethics, it’s simply not following police procedures. As for the manager of the property, it may have been a miscalculation, but his attitude, and TV appearances, are no less questionable. The media, though, took it a step beyond.
One of the main principles of democracy is a free, uncompromising press, where the search for the truth is crucial so to inform everyone about what, when, how, and why something happened. Ideally. Broadcast is also a public concession, which means that taxpayers are ultimately the bosses of the media. Theoretically, but hardly enforceable. Money always talks louder.
Nevertheless, it is in fact a violation of its mandate, and a betrayal of the constitution, when the media neither inform nor exercise restrain covering the news. Such an omission should indeed be actionable. Since it’s not, we’re left with the realization that a lot about even an astonishingly cruel, but straightforward act such as the San Bernardino shootings will remain unknown.
Conspiracy theories aside, that shouldn’t be an excuse for stop demanding the truth from those who charge us to do just as much. Otherwise, left to their own devices, media organizations too may be performing a particular toxic brand of terrorism that no one with a conscience and minimal sense of compassion should accept. Happy Hanukkah and have a great one. WC